“Should I Stay Or Should I Go?” The Clash isn’t asking you that question. To some, the question echoes the inner voice taunting you before you go to bed or the one that wakes you up in the morning.

Throughout most of the 20th century, the idea of leaving one’s place of employment was unheard of, as employees remained lifelong soldiers in a corporation. But after periods of massive downsizing, the migration of many jobs to emerging markets, and the restructuring and reengineering fads, employees lost the connection with their employers.

Shattered illusion

After the turbulent ’80s, the ’90s era of prosperity — sparked by investment and strong demand — encouraged many more workers to leave their comfortable jobs and seek out new opportunities. Others jumped from job to job in order to chase the almighty dollar or corner office.

Only a couple of years ago, the tone of this article would have been very different; today, after the dot-com bust, the stock market correction, 9/11, and the Enron implosion and Andersen mess, the employment market is painted with an entirely new paintbrush: a more sober one.

This said, the time has never been better for ambitious and industrious employees to take control of their destiny and chase their dreams, on their terms. If this article strikes a chord with you, maybe it’s time to ask yourself what you should do.

What’s your mindset?

The first determining factor is how you view your job. After all, if the job is merely a paycheck to you, then where you work (or for/with whom) might be irrelevant so long as the pay is maximized.

If money motivates you most, then there will always be a job to capture your attention more. The goal in one’s professional life should be finding that job that compensates more than adequately, enriches your mind and does not detriment your body.

Ride the vehicle

Ultimately, any job, opportunity or experience is nothing more than a “vehicle.” Not only is it vital that you understand the nature of the vehicle, but you must also ride it beyond its capacity. You don’t drive a Formula 1 car at 30 miles per hour — you have to push it to the limit and provide the engineers with the means to improve the car.

When Formula 1 racing king Michael Schumacher signed to Ferrari in 1996, everyone knew that the Scuderia wasn’t the best car on the circuit, far from it. But in signing, Schumacher knew that this was his chance to sign to the legendary team and work with the team’s engineers to bring the once mighty racing machine to the top of the circuit.

Life in the fast lane…

Step away from the vehicle…

All of this is cute, but the reality was that Ferrari knew it had to compensate for the lesser performing car. After all, this was the best driver since 1994, so luring him away would take more than “the legend of Ferrari.” Schumacher was too smart; he knew he would take the “vehicle” and drive it far beyond its capabilities, but Ferrari had to compensate him for the Schumy factor.

In essence, Schumacher was racing a tier-two racing car (at the time), but his results were increasingly among the tier-one cars of Williams-Renault and McLaren Mercedes. He knew he could sign on with any team and conceivably win every race. Did he bolt? No. For one, he knew the “vehicle” in question would have only reached top speed (translation: his mission at Ferrari would be accomplished) when the Scuderia would regain the top position in Formula 1.

$how me the money

Schumy’s cool $25 million swayed him until the car’s performance increased. By staying with the (originally) sub par team, he bettered himself, turned Ferrari around, got paid a tremendous amount, and left no doubt about whom the best driver was. This led to the second factor: recognition.

You better recognize

True, there may not be an “I” in “team,” but there is an “I” in “victory,” “win,” “survival,” and “profit.” But there is also an “I” in “humility” and “fairness.” Business, sports and life represent two-way streets on two various levels.

Firstly, with success comes failure. Ferrari cannot blame Schumacher in defeat yet praise the team in victory. As an employee, you have to be diplomatic and always talk positively about the team, but when it comes to the walk, the pressure is on you, my friend. After all, the engineers are in the paddock, but you’re the one in the driver’s seat. If you work in a culture where meritocracy is a dirty word, bolt, because you will be blamed for the fall but probably not praised for the rise.

And secondly, if you wish to get recognition, then you must recognize others.

Today, Schumacher has raced Ferrari to the top, he is richer beyond his wildest imagination, and he has numerous records to speak of. His younger brother Ralf is coming of age with another team. What “drives” him to stay? He could leave, he could retire, he could go to a new team and perform that Schumy magic all over again… but should he?

As a great finance professor used to say: “it depends.” Schumacher rightfully feels that part of Ferrari’s current success is his. But should this nostalgia, loyalty and sense of ownership handcuff him at Ferrari for life? So long as the compensation and recognition are fair; yes. Otherwise he should leave no matter how great Ferrari is — and there is no better pedigree and brand than Ferrari. Why should he leave when most would consider such a “handcuff” an honor?

In life, you have to step into a room believing that you have yet to race your best race, have yet to close your best deal and have yet to deliver your Oscar performance. If you feel that your best years are behind you, then gather your belongings and close the door on your way out. Black Sabbath felt that Ozzy Osbourne was washed up when they kicked him out of the band in the late 1970s. Ozzy’s onslaught in the ensuing years on the charts, in record stores and on worldwide tours shut Sabbath up for good and put them in their place.

Your reasons had better be valid…

Understand your reasons

There aren’t too many Ozzy Osbournes or Michael Schumachers in this world. Most of us have good, bad and ugly days; reacting with poise and maturity is what sets the statesmen apart from the despots.

We may think that the grass is greener on the other side, but in reality, it is far from it. Understand that you can make the grass greener and the desert bloom, but it comes at a cost. So before you hand in your resignation letter, consider the following:

Be prepared

Searching for work is one of the most painstaking, gut-wrenching endeavors you can undertake. No matter how skilled, ambitious and experienced you may be, the process is not fun for most. On the other hand, top executives have little trouble. After Jack Welch named Jeffrey Immelt his successor as Chairman and CEO of General Electric, the other two finalists for the heir (Robert Nardelli, then President and CEO of GE Power Systems, and James McNerney, then head of GE Aircraft Engines) ended up at Home Depot and 3M instantaneously. In other words, unless you have top headhunters drooling to lure you away, remember that you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.

Headhunters often encourage would-be job switchers to have a three-month transition period in which they save enough money, make contacts and start looking for something new. This is one reason why it is beneficial to maintain ongoing contact with headhunters. You never know when you will overstay your welcome and worse yet, when the rug will be pulled out from under you. A relationship with a headhunter allows you to keep your finger on the job market’s pulse. Even in the worst of conditions, you will have the best opportunities.

Understand the stakes
Remember that episode of Seinfeld when George Costanza quit his job and then returned the next Monday, pretending he had never quit at all? Well, that was a sitcom, but in real life, security will charge you with trespassing and toss you off the premises.

Often, all you need is a breath of fresh air, so join an association or club to spice up your career. At this point, you will not only refresh your career, but you’ll also make valuable contacts in the process, in the event that you decide to undergo that necessary change of scenery.

Sometimes you really do wish to be elsewhere. A well-known agent in the entertainment business left his employer because he knew he could do more on his own terms (and thus reap a fuller proportion of his labor). To this day, he considers this his best “deal.” It is up to you to measure the upside (and downside) of these decisions and act accordingly. Mostly, it is just a matter of timing.

Look around
If you are a mercenary, then ask yourself whether you can achieve more on your own or whether you can earn more using your existing vehicle. Compensation can be altered on your next paycheck, recognition can come in the form of a title change (although these are both largely aesthetic), but it’s the people that are hard to find. Even if you are not a team player per se, you will have to work with others. Ozzy Osbourne did indeed prove Black Sabbath wrong, but only because of the talented guitarists that stood by his side.

In the not-so glamorous world that consists of most jobs, look around and see which soldiers, engineers, salespeople, and support staff are lining up alongside you. Are these the people you wish to be with? Do you feel fortunate to have found them — well, do you? You had better; otherwise, you have no reason to stay.

What’s good for you?

In the glamorous world of Formula 1, the engineers have to make sure the car is in top shape, but at the end of the race, the driver races the car, the engineers watch the race. This is why the driver gets paid the big bucks and this is the meritocracy that Jack Welch preached… If you don’t like it, learn to drive.

Ash Karbasfrooshan is also the author of Course To Success, available at www.CourseToSuccess.com.